The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday it is taking public comments and will hold an open house and public hearing on the permits on March 24 in Portage.
The agency plans to approve ArcelorMittal’s request, saying the company showed the injected waste will not threaten underground sources of drinking water.
“EPA found the company has shown the injected waste will stay in deep rock formations for at least 10,000 years, and that it will not threaten any underground sources of drinking water,” the EPA said.
The company disposes of two kinds of waste: waste liquor (which is roughly 99 percent water and 1 percent ammonia) and spent pickle liquor (which is 87 percent water), according to EPA. The waste also contains the carcinogen benzene, suspected carcinogen naphthalene, and other chemicals including phenol, selenium and chromium.
EPA said the lowest drinking water source is 726 feet below the surface (just over 0.1 miles). The waste will be injected into the ground at a depth of between 0.5 and 0.8 miles below ground surface. Between the water and the injection point are about 2,000 feet of sedimentary rock, EPA said.
“This layer of rock prevents the waste from moving up. There are no faults in the rock through which waste might seep upward,” EPA said.
Because Indiana is an area with low earthquake risk, EPA said there is “virtually no possibility of damage to the well or leakage of waste from the injection zone as a result of earthquakes.”
(Sometimes these maps need a little clarifying. The Deep wells are only a few steps away from the Indiana Dunes National Shoreline and the Little Calumet Rivers. One of the most bio-sensitive and diverse areas in the country, and one of the most impaired.)
“ArcelorMittal has three injection wells operating at 250 W. U.S. Highway 12 in Burns Harbor. These wells inject waste from a steelmaking process known as “steel pickling” and waste ammonia liquor, a product of cokemaking.”
ArcelorMittal also has to prove, through periodical surveys, that pressure from other underground injection wells won’t force the waste upward.
“ArcelorMittal has demonstrated that, to a reasonable degree of certainty, hazardous constituents will not migrate upward out of the injection zone or sideways to a point of discharge in 10,000 years,” EPA stated in a fact sheet about the permits.
The new permit would allow ArcelorMittal to increase the maximum rate at which the ammonia waste is going into the ground from 240 to 300 gallons per minute. The company would be allowed to dispose of a maximum 92 million gallons of spent pickle liquor and 157.8 million gallons of ammonia liquor per year. That corresponds to nearly 12,500 backyard swimming pools.
To get a permit, a company must prove that the injected waste will stay in place for as long as it remains hazardous, according to the EPA.
Charlotte Read, a member of Save the Dunes and ArcelorMittal’s citizen advisory committee, said the company talked about drilling a new well five or six years ago, but that the advisory committee had not heard about it for years.
“I’m surprised and disappointed that the company did not see fit to involve the CAC (citizen advisory committee) in it. I’m surprised we were not at least notified,” she said.
Read said she found it troubling that ArcelorMittal would be allowed to accept waste from its plants elsewhere. She also wanted to know more about alternatives to disposing of the waste underground.
“I think taking other facilities’ waste is troubling because you don’t know how it’s going to get there,” she said. “If ArcelorMittal is putting one down now, how are the other steel mills managing without, except for the (U.S. Steel) Midwest plant. Why now? What could be done to avoid building the fourth well and ultimately closing down the other three? I don’t know the answer to that.”
U.S. Steel’s Midwest plant also has an injection well in the area.
The EPA granted the original exemption from federal law in 1990. The permits would be valid for 10 years and the exemption until Dec. 31, 2027.